Sam left before nine o’clock Saturday morning astride Absalom to spend the day servicing broodmares, which perfectly suited my plan. I calculated we could take the buggy to town and be home again in time to prepare a simple supper before he returned. So far, Sam hadn't even remembered the day was my birthday.
"Children, we're going on a special adventure today with Aunt Ella."
"Ooh," they cried in unison. "Auntie Ella," Oscar squeaked, "Auntie Ella, Auntie Ella, Auntie Ella!" He turned her name into a little song, as Helen echoed something which sounded like "Oon-ee, Oon-ee."
I chuckled as I finished fitting Oscar's little feet into his hand-me-down shoes. Worn through in places, he seemed not to mind. Helen's tiny slippers were also previously used, but at least had no visible holes. I took a long moment to gaze at the two of them with pride and they returned my gaze, eager for our adventure to begin. I'd dressed my slender, fair-haired Oscar in his best linen blue and white sailor suit. Helen, whose little round face was framed by her russet-colored hair, wore a summery, pale lavender print cotton dress. I was grateful to both Abi and John Henry, and Louis and Mayme, for allowing us to borrow their children's outgrown clothing.
"All right, my dears, time to go!"
Papa taught all his children how to harness a horse to a buggy, so even though it had been several years, it took little time to adeptly finish the task. I tied Oscar and Helen to the seat with one of my shawls and, thus situated, we set off for Mt. Clemens, our carriage pulled by the faithful Otis.
Along the way, I had a serious talk with them. "Children, we are going on a secret adventure. That means we must tell no one, not even Daddy, about our outing today. If you can keep it a secret, I will give you each a sour drop after supper tonight." Goodness, to what depths had I sunk, bribing my children to withhold information from their father? I hoped they would comply, not daring to contemplate the consequences of a loose tongue. I would be reminding them again all the way home later this afternoon.
We arrived at Ella's house mid-morning, and she awaited us with tea and freshly baked cinnamon rolls. "Hello, lovies, I'm so pleased to see you! Happy Birthday, Maggie. How would you like to have a little treat before we leave for the bazaar?" Oh, how I cherished my dear sister's love!
"It's your birthday, Mama?"
"Yes, it is, Oscar." I smiled at my little cherub.
"How old are you?"
"Old enough to be your mama! I am twenty-six."
"Oh." He looked at me with a sudden concern. "That is very old," nodding his head quite seriously, causing both Ella and me to laugh.
As always, my sister and I treasured each other's company. We delighted in watching Oscar and Helen's shining eyes as they sampled the bazaar's enticing fare. Ella indulged them, purchasing small hand-made toys for them to take home.
As we strolled toward the exit, we came upon a seller of used books at the flea market. Our eyes met. "What if we purchased some books to send Lucy?"
"Capital idea! I was thinking the same thing. That may be just the ticket to improve her mood."
Elated to find several appealing titles for our sister at minimal cost, we mentioned our intentions for these books to the vendor and he spontaneously gifted us a couple more. It would be a windfall for Lucy. We laughed as we took turns juggling the books and Helen in our arms all the way back to Ella's.
"Ella, I can't thank you enough for a perfect birthday."
"Oh, don't be silly, sister, it was merely a church bazaar," Ella grinned, "but I'm so pleased you enjoyed the day. Leave Lucy’s books with me and I’ll get them posted."
She had no inkling of how my world had shrunk. I found such a sense of security and safety with her, I again wished we might stay with her forever.
Loading the children back into our buggy, fear blossomed when I glanced at the sun's point in the sky and realized the time. I had anticipated starting towards home much earlier. On the ride home, Oscar and Helen fell asleep resting against each other. Like transporting two little angels, I smiled with satisfaction at the thought. Today, Ella had given me the gift of lightheartedness and dare I say, happiness, feelings I hadn't experienced for a long while. She might never fully understand how precious her gift was, since she could enjoy these freedoms any day.
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